Synopses & Reviews
Nidali, the rebellious daughter of an Egyptian-Greek mother and a Palestinian father, narrates the story of her childhood in Kuwait, her teenage years in Egypt (to where she and her family fled the 1990 Iraqi invasion), and her family's last flight to Texas. Nidali mixes humor with a sharp, loving portrait of an eccentric middle-class family, and this perspective keeps her buoyant through the hardships she encounters: the humiliation of going through a checkpoint on a visit to her father's home in the West Bank; the fights with her father, who wants her to become a famous professor and stay away from boys; the end of her childhood as Iraq invades Kuwait on her thirteenth birthday; and the scare she gives her family when she runs away from home.
Funny, charming, and heartbreaking, A Map of Home is the kind of book Tristram Shandy or Huck Finn would have narrated had they been born Egyptian-Palestinian and female in the 1970s.
"Jarrar's sparkling debut about an audacious Muslim girl growing up in Kuwait, Egypt and Texas is intimate, perceptive and very, very funny. Nidali Ammar is born in Boston to a Greek-Egyptian mother and a Palestinian father, and moves to Kuwait at a very young age, staying there until she's 13, when Iraq invades. A younger brother is born in Kuwait, rounding out a family of complex citizenships. During the occupation, the family flees to Alexandria in a wacky caravan, bribing soldiers along the way with whiskey and silk ties. But they don't stay long in Egypt, and after the war, Nidali's father finds work in Texas. At first, Nidali is disappointed to learn that feeling rootless doesn't make her an outsider in the States, and soon it turns out the precocious and endearing Arab chick isn't very different from other American girls, a reality that only her father may find difficult to accept. Jarrar explores familiar adolescent ground stifling parental expectations, precarious friendships, sensuality and first love but her exhilarating voice and flawless timing make this a standout. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Randa Jarrar was born in Chicago in 1978. She grew up in Kuwait and Egypt, and moved back to the U.S. at thirteen. She is a writer and translator whose honors include the Million Writers Award, the Avery Hopwood and Jule Hopwood Award and the Geoffrey James Gosling Prize. Her fiction has appeared in Ploughshares as well as in numerous journals and anthologies. Her translations from the Arabic have appeared in Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers; recently, she translated Hassan Daoud’s novel, The Year of the Revolutionary New Bread-Making Machine. She currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A Map of Home is her first novel. Visit Randa online at rockslinga.blogspot.com.
Reading Group Guide
1. Nidali opens with the story of her birth and says, "Baba realized that he didn't know my sex for sure but that didn't matter; he'd always known I was a boy." How does the fact that Nidali is female affect her relationship with her father? Do you think Waheed would have been as hard on her if she had been a boy? Examine the dynamics of this father-daughter relationship.
2. Nidali grows up in several different countries. What do you learn about adolescence from her varied perspective? Is it a universal experience?
3. Examine the several passages in which Nidali reflects on the idea of home and what it means to her. How does she define home? Is it a concept or something more concrete? What does the title refer to?
4. When Nidalis religious cousin Esam comes to visit, he throws away her Wonder Woman stickers, proclaiming the character looks like a “naked heathen” and “a shameless prostitute.” Nidali looks at the remains of the stickers and says, “These white spots were, to me, parts of God.” What role does religion play in Nidalis childhood? Does it change or evolve as she grows up?
5. Consider the different settings in the novel--Kuwait, Egypt, and Texas. Where do you think the Ammar family is the most content? Find instances when Jarrar weaves historical events into the plot and discuss the different ways her characters are affected by them.
6. Nidali writes a letter to Sadam Hussein to complain about the Iraqi invasion and how it is ruining her life. What does this reveal about Nidali? About the connection between the personal and the political?
7. Nidali's parents each live with the disappointment that they gave up their dream careers: Waheed never became a great poet and Ruz never became a concert pianist. How does each parent deal with this regret? How do their failures affect Nidali and her own hopes for the future?
8. Nidali chronicles her family's new life in America in the chapter "The Shit No One Bothered to Tell Us." What is the effect of her ironic commentary in these vignettes? How does Nidali portray her new home? Does she find anything positive in Texas?
9. Waheed is a complex character, capable of extreme compassion and love as well as quick-tempered anger and abuse. Do you ever sympathize with Waheed? What are the driving forces of his behavior?
10. Nidali's sexual awakening is a significant part of her adolescence. From her first boyfriend Fakhr in Kuwait to her high-school crush Medina in Texas, Nidali goes through a range of joyous and unpleasant experiences. Compare and contrast these encounters. How does she react to heartbreak? To disappointment?
11. Growing up, Nidali is fascinated by her family history. In what ways does family history affect an individual life? How is Nidali shaped by those events in her family that occurred before her birth?
12. Does Waheed's acceptance of Nidali's final act of rebellion--going to the "forbidden fruit college in Boston"-- show he is finally ready to let go? Is his change of heart a reaction to his recent experiences as an immigrant is the U.S. or is it in keeping with his long-standing relationship with Nidali? Is this a fitting ending?
13. The book opens with Waheed holding a pen, and ends with Ruz throwing one out the window, and Nidali catching it. What role does writing play in the novel?